Saturday, November 21, 2015

Frank Newman: Licensed Builders and continuing education

The leaky homes debacle has given rise to some pretty seismic changes in the building industry. A fair chunk of the blame was, rightly or wrongly, put on so-called Cowboy builders. The upshot is a Licensed Building Practitioners (LPB) scheme that is intended to ensure those who are doing "restricted" building work (i.e. building more than a rabbit cage) are suitably skilled.

As it happens there are seven different LBP classes: Design, Carpentry, Roofing, Brick and blocklaying, Site, External plastering, Foundations, and All. Practitioners in each class must gain between 12 and 18 points within a specified time frame to retain their license.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has recently reviewed the scheme and has suggested a number of  changes which came into effect on 2 November. They say, 

"The review found that there are some credibility issues with the current scheme, including some LBPs doing activities that are not relevant to their licence class in order to earn the required number of points. The new framework seeks to move away from an entirely points-based system... It consists of both compulsory and elective activities."

The new compulsory activities will consist of reading the MBIE’s Codewords newsletter (to make sure the LBP's are actually reading the newsletter and not just looking at the pictures they will have to answer an online quiz) and identifying two examples of on-the-job learning over the two-year skills cycle. Elective activities include things like:
  • Conferences
  • Seminars and lectures
  • Trade events
  • A subscription to a trade magazines
  • Performing a service to the industry
  • Learning about workplace safety
  • Mentoring
It's all very earnest and well intended, but one has to ask is it going to make any worthwhile difference?

The reason I say that is because the scheme is not unlike that adopted by other "professions" where expertise is required - accountants, financial advisers, lawyers, etc.

From what I have seen I doubt that requirement to accrue a prescribed number of credits has much beneficial impact on the actual skill level in an industry. What it does do is create an array of seminars, conferences etc that are promoted as industry training when fundamentally the primary objective of those activities is the accumulation of credits with as little cost and inconvenience as possible.

This is how it generally goes. An industry body requires their members to accumulate say 12 credits a year. They hold an annual conference, and let their members know that attending the conference earns them say 10 points. The other 2 they can obtain by signing a declaration saying they have read the industry magazine or attended a BBQ put on by a trade supplier.

It's great for the association and conference organisers because they can charge heaps for a two or three day conference at a place with a nice golf course. They are guaranteed a big turnout, even though the speakers are the same ones they had the previous year. It's money in the bank for the association. They are really happy - they are important and have made money.

The conference goers are happy to. All they need to do is turn up at the registration desk to sign in and bank 10 credits. Once they have done that it’s off to the bar to talk about the golf they are going to play over the next day or two. The more studious ones stay for the drinks that evening, and then go home or back to work, knowing they have to put in a few more hours to recover the money they have just spent buying the credits.

It's fair to say, not everyone goes off to the golf course. Some lounge around the swimming pool or go shopping. Some actually attend the conference. They are the same ones that have always attended and have probably invested in their own continuing education without having to accumulate credits.

There is also no doubt that having restricted trades actually increases the cost to consumers. What is in doubt whether having a convoluted points scheme will have any recognisable benefit on skill levels. There are many who say returning to the days of on-the-job apprenticeships is a better way to go. They may be right.


Mike K said...

The vast majority of leaky building issues were not caused by cowboy builders. They were caused by poor architectural practices, poor quality building materials and materials not suited to the situation their suppliers promoted their use for and the architects specified them for. The builders only did what they were instructed to do and installed them in the manner they were told too. When the materials failed to provide weather tightness, the builders were blamed as convenient scapegoats, but it was the suppliers and architects who should have been hung, drawn and quartered. So now the builders have to 'up their game' while for the other players its business as usual. Nothing learned.

Geoffrey said...

I totally agree with Mike K but would make one additional observation. In order to be just that little more secure against any future failure arising from the inappropriate use of a poorly designed product my Council now requires all "professional" input to be peer reviewed. This backside-covering practice results in double the costs to the purchaser of the service - you and me. I have never heard of an engineer's report being rejected on the basis that the peer did not agree. This would suggest that as they are all reading the same manufacturer's publications and utilize the same software tools - when they push the button for a computed answer, they all get the same one...

Anonymous said...

Mike has a point in moving the focus away from Cowboy builders; they may be there but they are not the predominant issue. Mike's point regardinging products and design is also well made however I would contest his assertion that this leaves the building and construction industry with a clean sheet. Work standards in general are careless and shoddy with almost all new buildings demanding rectification to overcome the shortfalls. Historically the "cover-watch" over design, sub-contractors, products and workmanship has been The Site Manager or Clerk of Works. These two have either disappeared or diminshed in stature. Gaps between design and products to application and completion once covered are now exposed and what should have been a good building becomes a bad one.

Mike K said...

The other comment I would make is that council inspectors have moved from being inspectors to being butt-covers. Several decades ago a builder could have made minor changes to a situation to improve it, the inspector would sign this off as long as they could also see this was at least as good as the original specification. These days inspectors are only interested in ensuring everything is done to the exact requirement and product as specified by the architect. This could mean the building could fall down, the inspector doesn't care for as long as everything was done according to the architect it will be his butt on the line and not the inspector and his council.

Ann said...

I would add to Mike K's insights into the leaky building issue. The products that were not compatible and caused the issues were driven from the top of the industry down. When it was obviously becoming an issue BRANZ re branded itself and moved its H.Q. offshore while Councils followed like sheep allowing the products use even though some builders were questioning that treatment free framing and monolithic claddings were incompatible. Manufacturers of treatment free timber were "in bed" so to speak with industry associations by way of sponsorship of major industry award promotions.
Six years before this issue arose, a president of a small rural association stood at one of the award events and warned that the issue was going to become a major for the country. The association called him to task because his speech put them offside with a major sponsor.
What is going to change, when this is the more recent history of the building industry. We can debate with all manner of intellectual forewarning, The industry is being pushed towards group housing that operates on labour only "shunt them up as quickly as possible" contracts.

Anonymous said...

I have a F1 and F2 licence. The reregistration process is laughable. When I have to do it I go through my diary and claim points for every time I had a coffee meeting with another practitioner, or sales rep etc.. I am way to busy doing my job to attend farcical sale seminars or golf weekends. You are either proficient at my job or not. Why not cut out the nonsense and once a year have an onsite meet with an accreditor, maybe view some other jobs to show your proficiency. Then let me get the heck on with my job and life. It has become all so ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

After fifty three years experience working in the trade my opinion is that the licencing system is a protection scheme for vested interests.
This, along with OSH requirements, resource consent hoops and Council policy has added thousands to the cost of building the simple family home.
Introduction of bits of paper, points for qualification and compulsory attendance has done nothing to improve the skills of most carpenters or the quality of the finally produced product.
It is the implementation of revised materials and practices that has solved the leaky home problem. And I question the reason for some of these 'over the top' requirements as well! I have not noticed too many 60's and 70's houses falling down after a big blow.
Like anonymous I am also busy, but without the 'bits of paper' I am now restricted in the scope of my work.